Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The singles-hitting Phillies scored just enough runs to break a season-long, five-game losing streak and get Cliff Lee a much-deserved win Thursday night.

The 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins was another of those tooth-and-nail jobs in which everything has to go right for the Phillies to win. They put together a nice little rally in the top of the eighth to get Lee the lead and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon earned his 12th save in his first save chance since May 29 (see Instant Replay).

Lee improved to 8-2 on the season and 7-1 in 10 starts following a Phillies loss.

Obviously, the Phillies have done a lot of losing this season. They are just 2-5 on this trip and 32-35 on the season, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

July is right around the corner and with the Phillies sputtering, Lee’s name will soon be hot in trade rumors. Hey, it already is.

So what does ol’ Cliff think?

He offered a glimpse into his thoughts in a chat with reporters after the game. Here it is in Q & A form:

Q: You came here to win. How tough is it to be here on a team that’s spinning its wheels around .500 and has a real uphill road?

A: “The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but that’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played over that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There’s some good excuses. But they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had a lot of key guys injured, so it is what it is.”

Q: As currently constituted, do you think this team can be a playoff team?

A: “What?”

Q: With the current makeup of this team, do you think it can be a playoff team?

A: “I can’t look at it any other way besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason. That’s the only way you can look at it.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, do you want to stay?

A: “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, are you prepared to stay here for two months and play out the string?

A: “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here and that’s where my focus is.”

Q: Are you surprised it’s gone like this the last two seasons? (The Phils won the NL East with Lee in 2011, but missed the playoffs last year.)

A: “We had one chance at it in 2½ years. This year is not over yet. I expected to get multiple shots at it. But there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing. So nothing is going to be given to you and nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go earn it. I’m going to keep doing what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really all I can control.”

There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Foremost, Lee was given the opportunity to say he wanted to remain with the Phillies even if they continued to plod along out of the money, and he wouldn’t commit to it.

Lee has a limited no-trade clause in which he can block deals to 20 teams, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. With his 35th birthday approaching, it’s difficult to imagine Lee blocking a deal that would send him to a team with a chance of winning a World Series. That is if the Phillies decide to move him. There is a school of thought that they will hang on to him, cross their fingers for a second-half run and try to get it together with Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation next season.

But can Lee, hungry to win and tired of losing, wait that long?

We’ll see.

In the meantime, savor every Lee start. Like this one. He allowed just three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out six. He faced the minimum through 6 1/3 before allowing a walk, an infield single and a two-run double on his only bad pitch of the night, a hanging 0-2 cutter to Justin Morneau. Lee didn’t make it past the seventh because he had a blister on his middle finger.

Down a run in the top of the eighth, Kevin Frandsen (pinch-hit double) started a two-run rally that allowed the Phils to retake the lead. Jimmy Rollins’ ground out scored Ben Revere (four hits) with the go-ahead run and Adams and Papelbon did the rest.

“Cliff pitched too well to lose that game,” Frandsen said.

Hellickson wins possible Phillies swan song, but sustains minor hand injury

Hellickson wins possible Phillies swan song, but sustains minor hand injury

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ATLANTA – Though he wasn’t happy with the way he pitched in what might have been his last start with the Phillies, Jeremy Hellickson still helped the ballclub win on Saturday night.
 
He just did it more with his bat than his arm.
 
Hellickson’s two-run double – the first extra-base hit of his career – gave the Phillies the lead in the fifth inning of what eventually became a 9-5 win over the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay).

“The big hit for me was Hellickson’s double,” manager Pete Mackanin said after the game.
 
Mackanin was so happy with Hellickson’s double down the leftfield line that he absolved the pitcher for not being able to get a bunt down earlier in the at-bat.
 
Well, sort of.
 
“We’re going to have to do extra work with all the pitchers because we’re not getting bunts down,” said Mackanin, who was happy to get the win but a little exasperated by the sloppiness of the three-hour, 40-minute dull toothache of a game.
 
“At least we won,” he said. “A win’s a win.”
 
Hellickson's at-bat in the fifth was actually a little more adventurous than anyone would have liked, particularly with the pitcher being on the trading block. Before stroking the double to left, Hellickson got jammed while hitting a foul ball to the right side. The jam shot caused some soreness and bruising on the palm of his right hand and prevented him from getting through the sixth inning. He left after 5 2/3 innings with a 5-3 lead that he helped build.
 
“I’m still not really sure what it is, a bruise or I popped something in there,” Hellickson said after the game. “But I felt fine, though, after I did it. It was just a little tough to grip -- just the curveball.”

Mackanin sent pitching coach Bob McClure to the mound to check on Hellickson in the sixth. The pitcher told McClure his palm was sore so Mackanin got him out of there.
 
“It jarred him,” Mackanin said. “But he’s OK now. In the end, it’s not a big deal. It’s not like his elbow was hurting, you know what I mean?
 
“Anyway, his hit was the big hit of the game. It turned it around for us.”
 
It remains to be seen whether Hellickson’s sore hand will affect his trade status. The issue seemed minor enough that it shouldn’t, but one never knows.
 
The Phillies, according to sources, have received significant interest in Hellickson and he could be on the move by Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. A number of teams including the Orioles, Pirates, Blue Jays and Cardinals have been monitoring him. The Dodgers and Tigers, both in the market for a starter, had scouts at Saturday night’s game. The Tigers scout parachuted in specifically to see Hellickson.
 
Hellickson finished the month of July with a 2.34 ERA in six starts and gave up just four runs in his last three starts. So if someone trades for him, they will be getting a hot hand. He is 8-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts with the Phillies.
 
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Hellickson said. “I'll find out Monday. 
 
“I can't control any of it. So I've just been focused on every start and in between starts. Whatever happens happens. Hopefully I'm still here on Tuesday.”
 
Mackanin echoed that thought.
 
“He’s been an outstanding guy, a real likable person,” Mackanin said. “He’s got a good work ethic. He’s focused and poised on the mound. He’s a true pitcher. He knows how to change speeds. I’d like to keep him.”
 
Atlanta out-hit the Phils, 14-9, but the Braves made two errors and their pitchers walked eight, including four in the eighth innings when the Phillies sent nine men to the plate and scored four times without getting a hit.
 
“When you score four runs without a hit you better win the game,” Mackanin said.
 
The Phillies were able to do that because Cameron Rupp had three hits and scored two runs and reliever Edubray Ramos got four big outs, three via strikeout. Trade candidate Jeanmar Gomez closed out the game in a non-save situation.

“I wanted to win the game,” Mackanin said of his decision to use Gomez. “I didn’t want to take any chances with anyone else. I just wanted one of my best guys knowing that he’s well rested and we have a day off Monday.”
 
Not everyone will be off Monday. The front office will be working the phones as the minutes tick away until the 4 p.m. deadline. Vince Velasquez is in play (see story). Gomez could go. David Hernandez could go. And so could Hellickson. If this was his last start with the Phillies, he finished up with a win.

Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

TORONTO -- With one big inning and another strong start from J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays moved into the AL East lead.

Happ won his eighth straight decision, Devon Travis homered and Toronto used a seven-run fifth to beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-1 Saturday, taking sole possession of first place for the first time since early April.

"There's still a lot of baseball left, but I feel we're starting to play good ball," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said.

Toronto, which won for the 16th time in 22 games, had not been alone atop its division since a 2-0 start. The Blue Jays have scored seven or more runs in an inning three times this season.

Kevin Pillar had two hits and drove in four runs to match his career high. Major league RBIs leader Edwin Encarnacion drove in his 89th run (see full recap).

Giants find just enough offense for rare win since break
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence is healthy at last. Joe Panik has been back a few days from a concussion and is driving in runs again. The San Francisco Giants sure are starting to look like themselves again.

Oh, with that new face in the infield of Eduardo Nunez.

Panik hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, Nunez had a two-run double in his first start with San Francisco and the Giants snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Saturday.

Pence was activated from the disabled list after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

"It's huge, just his presence in the lineup," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's one of our guys. In addition to the talent, he brings energy and all those intangibles. He charged up the troops being out there (see full recap)."

De La Rosa, Rockies win 5th straight, Mets lose 4th in row
NEW YORK -- Jorge De La Rosa earned his 100th career victory and the Colorado Rockies eventually caught up with Bartolo Colon, beating the New York Mets 7-2 on a rainy Saturday night for their fifth straight win.

The Rockies improved to 12-4 since the All-Star break and won despite losing NL home run leader Trevor Story to a jammed left thumb. He seemed to get hurt on a scrambling slide in the fourth, exited early and X-rays on the rookie shortstop were negative.

On the day the Mets retired Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza's No. 31, the Mets lost their fourth in row. The 43-year-old Colon (9-6) faltered in his first start on three days' rest since 2005, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes left in midgame because of a nagging quad injury (see full recap).

Rea injured in Miami debut, Marlins win 11-0
MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins' big win might have come with a price.

Newly acquired Colin Rea left early with an elbow injury in his Miami debut in the Marlins' 11-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.

"We obviously needed the win, but it's not at that cost," Marlins reliever David Phelps said. "Hopefully, it's nothing, but you never like to see a starter come out of the game when you're strapped for starters to begin with."

Rea, acquired in a trade with San Diego, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

"I kind of felt something in my elbow and it gradually got worse throughout the game," Rea said. "I don't know if I could have thrown another pitch, but we'll see. We don't know anything yet."

Rea initially felt a pain in his arm during warm-ups before the game, but tried to pitch through it (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 9, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 9, Braves 5

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ATLANTA – If this was Jeremy Hellickson’s swan song with the Phillies he went out a winner.
 
Hellickson pitched into the sixth inning and gave up just three runs in the Phils’ 9-5 win over the sloppy Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.
 
Hellickson is 8-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts with the Phillies. He could be on the move to a contender before Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. A number of clubs in need of starting pitching scouted Hellickson’s start. 
 
Braves pitching walked eight batters.

Starting pitching report 
Hellickson had the type of start he often does. He went 5 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, exiting with a 5-3 lead. He allowed nine hits, walked one and struck out two.

Hellickson finished the month of July with a 2.34 ERA in six starts and gave up just four runs in his last three starts.
 
Will he make another start for the Phillies? We’ll know in a couple of days.

Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran gave up three runs over five innings.
 
Bullpen report
Hellickson departed with a run in and two men on base with two outs in the sixth. Edubray Ramos came in and registered a strikeout to end the inning. He stayed on for the seventh and struck out two more.
 
Jeanmar Gomez closed out a four-run lead. His appearance in a non-save situation may have been a showcase for teams interested in trading for him. The Giants and Indians have been watching Gomez.
 
The Phillies scored twice off lefty Eric O’Flaherty to take a 5-2 lead in the sixth.
 
At the plate
Hellickson helped his cause with a two-run double in the fifth. It was the first double of his career.
 
The Phillies built a 5-2 lead when Freddy Galvis singled home two runs in the sixth.
 
Ryan Howard doubled in the second and scored on a hit by Cameron Rupp for the Phillies’ first run. Rupp had three hits and scored two runs.
 
The Phillies sent nine men to the plate and scored four runs in the eighth without getting a hit. They benefited from four walks in the inning.
 
Nick Markakis, Adonis Garcia and Anthony Recker (single and double) all had RBI hits for the Braves.
 
Trade update
The Phillies’ asking price for Vince Velasquez is … (see story)
 
Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-12, 3.83) pitches Sunday afternoon for the Phillies. The Braves had not named a starter as Saturday night’s game was ending.